Cheng Zeng You said that the majority of the Ba Gua training in the village occurred in the evenings after everyone had finished their daily work in the fields. He said that there was no one in the village who "specialized" in martial arts, everyone worked in the fields or had some other job in the village. There was no one who practiced Ba Gua full time. Even those that lived in the village did not always have time to practice Ba Gua everyday. It always depended on the work load. Those whom did practice Ba Gua in the evenings did not pay any tuition, the instruction was always free. However, the students would help take care of any injustices which may have occurred in or around the village. Because the village was far outside of the range of the police, the Ba Gua instructor and his students filled the role of sheriff and his deputies.
Before we had traveled to the Cheng Village, Cheng style practitioners in Beijing, Wang Rong Tang (i it) and Liang Ke Quan, had told me of a large plaque that the Emperor had given to Cheng Ting Hua when he had asked Cheng to be one of his bodyguards. Cheng had not accepted the job but he took the plaque to his home and gave it to his mother. Wang and Liang told me that this plaque was still in the Cheng Village in the home of Cheng Zeng Yue. After Cheng Zeng Yue had answered some of my questions about Ba Gua in the village and told some stories about Cheng Ting Hua and Cheng Dian Hua, I mentioned the plaque and asked him if I could see the it. Wang and Liang had built the plaque up to be a very special thing and told me that I would be lucky if the Cheng's let me get a look at it. Cheng Zeng Yue told me that the plaque was in another room and promised to show it to me a little later.
After we went outside and demonstrated Ba Gua forms for each other, I again asked about the plaque. The way this thing had been built up I had imagined that it was very elaborate and had its own special room. Finally Cheng Zeng Yue agreed to show us the plaque. We walked into a bedroom in the back of Cheng's home. I looked around the room but saw no shinning plaque anywhere. Cheng's two students walked over to a bed which was simply a mattress laying on a large board which lay across two stacks of bricks. They lifted the board and revealed the plaque. The plaque was not under the bed, it was the bed! This was rural China, everything put to good use.
I have had the opportunity to visit remote villages which are famous for martial arts on two occasions. The first was the Chen family village in Henan Province which is famous for Chen style Tai Ji ), and the second was the Cheng family village in Shen County, Hebei Province, which is famous for Ba Gua. Although the Chen family village is a bit more commercial now because the government build a training hall there, it is still predominantly a farming village. Visiting these remote farming areas in China gives one a unique perspective concerning the individuals who studied martial arts in rural China.
When observing the workers in the fields and around the villages in rural China, the first thing that one observes is that these people are very strong. Obviously, performing hard physical labor all day will make a body strong. The fact that the individuals who were from these villages developed physical strength, as a result of manual labor, prior to or during study of the martial arts can tell us something about our modern-day study of these arts.
Looking back in history, it can be seen that the large majority of famous masters of Ba Gua Zhang and Xing Yi Quan come from very similar backgrounds. The typical pattern was for individuals to be from a rural farming community, start martial arts training when they were very young with one or another of the Shaolin based systems, and then later learn Ba Gua, Xing Yi or both. The process appears to be one of developing physical strength through manual labor and/or Shaolin based fundamental training, learning basic martial arts skills in the study of a Shaolin based art, and then refining that strength and skill in the practice of internal arts such as Ba Gua or Xing Yi. Typically practitioners in the United States today grow up in the cities where they have relatively little physical activity, get a job where they sit at a desk all day, practice a Ba Gua form routine three nights a week at a local school, and then wonder why they have a difficult time developing "internal power" or fighting skill.
Many times in China I have heard teachers say that the "internal power" comes from a refinement of trained strength, or gong li One of the main problems today in the United States is that practitioners are trying to jump straight into the performance of forms which are specifically designed to refine martial arts skills and polish "trained strength" without having any strength or skill to begin with. They are trying to build a house on a shaky foundation. Does this mean that in order to develop skill we all need to work on a farm and study Shaolin? No it doesn't, however, we can gain some insights from the pattern of study exhibited by our predecessors in China. That pattern calls for obtaining basic strengths and skills in the performance of exercises which are designed specifically for development of gong li and gong fu as a foundation for the study of forms and exercises which work to refine those basic skills.
Another interesting aspect of martial arts training in rural China is that many students did not live in the same village as their teacher. It was typical for a student to travel to his teacher's home village and stay there for several weeks to learn new material and then go back home for several months to practice that material before returning to the teacher to learn more. Training in this manner the student was forced to practice one thing for months at a time. This style of training allowed for the student to practice each new aspect of training with sufficient repetition. Today we find students coming to class three nights a week and wanting to learn something new each time they come to class. This style of training does not give the student sufficient time with any one aspect of the art to develop real skill.
Traveling to the Cheng family village, watching the people work hard in the fields and realizing that only after a full day of work in the fields did they have time to practice their Ba Gua, gives one a new perspective on the physical conditioning and toughness of the rural Chinese martial artists. While it is easy to imagine China's great martial artists such as Sun Lu Tang ( # #'t), Li Cun Yi # H), Zhang Zhao Dong (3Jt & £), and Cheng Ting Hua growing up under such conditions, the fact is that some of today's best Ba Gua and Xing Yi men in China were raised in the exact same conditions.
Today one of the most well known products of the Cheng family village who is still actively teaching is Sun Zhi Jun of Beijing. Sun, who was born and raised in the Cheng family village, began studying Ba Gua Zhang in 1945 at the age of 14. When he was very young Sun watched others in the village practicing Ba Gua and tried to imitate what he saw. Sun's parents were poor and were worried that his fondness for martial arts would take him away from an interest in learning a trade. They discouraged him from practicing martial arts. When Sun found his first teacher, he studied secretly so that his parents would not find out. His first Ba Gua teacher was a villager named Qi Meng %), however he only studied with Qi for a short period of time. After gaining a Ba Gua foundation from Qi, Sun began studying with one of the village's most prominent Ba Gua instructors, Liu Zi Yang. Liu had studied Ba Gua with both Cheng Ting Hua and Cheng Dian Hua in the Cheng family village. Sun said that when he was very young Cheng Dian Hua was still alive, however, by the time he started studying Ba Gua, Cheng Dian Hua had passed away (Cheng Dian Hua died around 1935).
When Sun was young he would go to school during the day and practice Ba Gua every evening with his teacher. Walking the circle while holding the "eight mother palms" - ba da mu zhang) was the emphasis of his practice for the first three years. Other developmental exercises were also practiced during these early years of training in order to help build strength. These exercises included tossing a padlock-shaped stone dumbbell to strengthen the arms, throwing and catching a sandbag to help strengthen the grip, kicking large stones to help harden the feet, and slapping trees to develop strong palms. They would also hit hanging sandbags of different shapes and sizes with all parts of the body. The instructor would swing a bag and the student would try to hit it with the shoulder, back, palms, elbows, or hips, whichever was most appropriate. Once they struck the first bag, the instructor would swing another bag and they would have to move in quickly and hit that bag,
then they would move on to anther bag, etc. There would be many bags of different sizes hanging at various heights. The students would dodge in and out of the swinging bags hitting them with different parts of the body to learn how to hit with power while remaining in constant motion.
Sun said that Liu Zi Yang was a very strict teacher. Sometimes Liu would make him practice walking the circle so long that when he finished, his legs and feet were swollen. He says that there were many people practicing Ba Gua in the village at that time. He enjoyed practicing with the others, but he also liked to go off on his own to concentrate and practice on his own.
One night when the moon was full, Sun Zhi Jun was practicing Ba Gua by himself in a grove of trees near the village. He ran through some of his old practice sets and then began to work on the new material he had learned from his teacher during the day. As he practiced, he darted in between trees and executed strikes on the trees as if he were fighting multiple opponents. During one sequence he moved in on a pine tree and executed "splitting palm" directly into the one foot diameter tree, shaking the entire tree from root to tip. Just after Sun struck the tree he heard someone shout, "Well done!" He turned and saw a large man standing next to a tree several meters away. Sun recognized the man as Cheng You Sheng, Cheng
Sun Zhi Jun walking the circle. Notice the very low and extended steps.
Dian Hua's fourth son. Cheng You Sheng was famous for his Ba Gua in the Cheng Village, however, since he was in the furniture trade, he had moved to Beijing and did not spend much time in the village. Cheng You Sheng was skilled himself, however, he was very conservative and reluctant to teach his skill to others.
On the night Cheng You Sheng had spotted Sun Zhi Jun practicing Ba Gua, he had been out practicing himself. He heard Sun's splitting palms hitting the trees and went to have a look. He saw that Sun practiced very hard, his palm strikes were powerful and his footwork was swift. Cheng was impressed that such a young man had these skills and he asked Sun to become his student. Sun was pleasantly surprised and kowtowed to thank Cheng.
In 1953, at the age of 20, Sun Zi Jun moved to Beijing to study Ba Gua with Cheng You Sheng. Sun and Cheng practiced together every evening for six years. From Cheng, Sun learned the skills of leaping, dodging, rolling, and changing. Through hard practice he began to understand the strength, accuracy, quickness and grace of Ba Gua movement and achieved mastery through combining the physical movements with qi gong (-SM^). After Cheng You Sheng died in 1959, Sun Zhi Jun began studying with Cheng Ting Hua's son, Cheng You Xin.
Cheng Ting Hua had two sons, Cheng You Long ( ii^Tit), also known as Cheng Hai Ting (fe^'f*), and Cheng You Xin. When Cheng Ting Hua died in 1900, Cheng You Long was in his twenties and Cheng You Xin was a young teenager. Since both of his sons were relatively young when he died, Cheng's students looked after them. Cheng You Xin was taken back to the Cheng family village by Cheng Dian Hua. Before he left Beijing, Cheng Dian Hua asked Yang Ming Shan ( # ^ J-0 to look after Cheng You Long. Yang, who was Cheng Ting Hua's student and nephew, took Cheng You Long to live in Xing Zhuang which was located in the eastern district of Beijing.
While living in the Cheng family village Cheng You Xin completed his Ba Gua training with his uncle, Cheng Dian Hua. He stayed in the village for 7 or 8 years and then began to travel around Beijing and Tianjin teaching Ba Gua and working as a bodyguard. He also spent 5 or 6 years studying Xing Yi Quan with Li Cun Yi.
Around 1935 Cheng You Xin obtained a job as a bodyguard for an official in Zhuo Zhou, a city about 40 miles south of Beijing, and served in that position for three years during the Japanese occupation. When the official lost his position and left Zhuo Zhou, Cheng You Xin was out of a job and fell on hard times. A local martial artist named Liang Ke Quan found Cheng and, since his family was wealthy, Liang offered to take care of Cheng and help him financially. Cheng stayed in Zhuo Zhou for three years teaching Liang and a small group of students.
In 1942, the well known Xing Yi and Ba Gua practitioner Lo Xing Wu came to Zhuo Zhou and offered Cheng a teaching job in Beijing and so Cheng went to Beijing to teach. Lo Xing Wu had been a Ba Gua student of one of Cheng Ting Hua's top disciples, Li Wen Biao (^^iM). He had also studied Xing Yi from Li Cun Yi's student, Hao En Guang ( iPSifc). Cheng You Xin was still teaching in Beijing in 1959 when Sun Zhi Jun began studying with him. Sun studied both Ba Gua and Xing Yi from Cheng You Xin.
Sun Zhi Jun refined his skills with Cheng, receiving advanced training sets which he had not been shown by his other two teachers. Just before Cheng You Xin died in 1967 he appointed Sun Zhi Jun as the successor to his family's system of Ba Gua Zhang. Sun, a retired natural gas and coal engineer, still lives and teaches in Beijing. He teaches a handful of "inner door" students in Beijing and has also traveled to Japan and Singapore to teach. For a number of years Sun also served as a wushu Ba Gua coach in Beijing.
In 1982, Sun Zhi Jun was appointed as a coach at the East District Wu Shu Sports School in Beijing and was also appointed the international Ba Gua Zhang wushu coach. Although he has trained many of the country's top contemporary wushu Ba Gua Zhang performers, Sun says that the contemporary wushu Ba Gua and the traditional Ba Gua are two entirely different things. Although the wushu performers like to call their Ba Gua a "traditional style," there practice and execution of the art is far cry from real traditional Ba Gua. Sun says that in the interest of "looking good" the contemporary wushu schools have created something that is totally separate from traditional martial arts. He said that they do not study within the traditional framework and thus they have lost the traditional skills. His bottom line comment was, "By traditional standards, the contemporary wushu performers are not very good at Ba Gua. They cannot compete with those who really study traditional Ba Gua."
Sun Zhi Jun said that he has tried to teach the wushu competitors how to practice traditional Ba Gua, but he always becomes frustrated because "looking good" is the most important thing on their minds. He says that if something does not look fancy, they do not study it very hard. Since the government promotes this thinking, he is fighting an uphill battle in trying to teach his traditional Ba Gua to the wushu performers. To earn his paycheck as a wushu coach, Sun watered down the training and teaches the wushu performers what they want to know, however, he also teaches a small group of non-wushu performers in the traditional way so that his art will not be lost.
I have had the opportunity to see a few of Sun's traditional Ba Gua students train and I have seen some of the wushu performers demonstrate his forms. The difference in quality of execution is obvious. Sun believes that if the student does not practice usage, they will not understand the art and will not execute
Ba Gua and Xing Yi man Lo Xing Wu sponsored Cheng You Xin to teach in Beijing the movements correctly. Since the wushu performers concentrate on looking good above all else, he says that they will never get it.
In practicing Ba Gua, Sun believes that there are three important steps in training. The first step involves developing good gong fu, in other words, a solid foundation. This means that the body is trained to be strong, fast, flexible, coordinated, and fluid in movement. After this training is accomplished, he feels that the student should extensively study how to use the art in fighting. Lastly, the practitioner must study how to vary the art in order to respond to different situations.
Sun says that the basic gong fu of Ba Gua is in the walking. When his students train they learn to walk with a very low, extended step. Sun's walking posture is so long that he almost executes the splits with each step. He explained that this walking step is good for training the legs, but is not the step that it used in fighting. Sun says that while his students start out by practicing the tang ni bu (iff j^), or "mud walking" step in order to develop the legs, they will later be taught a variety of stepping techniques which are
Sun Zhi Jun demonstrates his Ba Gua, October 1991. The famous wushu Ba Gua performer Ge Chun Yan, who was one of Sun's students, is in the background.
more applicable to fighting. Beginning students start walking with the upper basin posture, however, Sun encourages them to build their leg strength so that they can eventually walk in the lower basin posture.
When learning the basic circle walk, Sun's students will first practice walking while executing the eight mother palms - ba mu zhang). These eight postures, the last of which is the classical Ba Gua guard stance, are designed to develop basic energetic and structural strengths in the body in conjunction with the circle walking. The first of the eight mother palms is designed to help bring qi to the dan tian (^J-H?) when walking. In this posture the hands are held down in front of the body at hip level with the palms facing downward and the fingertips of each hand pointing in towards each other. The student will hold this posture while walking until the walking becomes smooth and comfortable, the body is balanced and centered, and the qi sinks to the dan tian. Once these criteria are met, the student can move to the second posture.
The second walking posture, is executed with the arms spread out to the sides and the palms facing upward. Sun states that after the qi is collected in the dan tian, the steps become smooth and fluid, and the student develops moving root during execution of the first posture, the second posture helps the qi fill the chest up to the top of the head and strengthens the shoulders and arms out to the tips of the fingers. With the first and second postures providing a strong whole body structural and energetic base, the practitioner can then execute the remaining six postures to develop strengths, alignments, and connections in a variety of ways.
Once the student has had sufficient development and experience with the eight mother palms, Sun will teach them the first of several circle walking forms, called the "old eight palms" - lao ba zhang), which is designed to develop strength, flexibility, and coordination. After the student becomes proficient at the "old eight palms," he or she will then be taught the "linking palms" - ba gua lian huan zhang) form. At this level the student is still working to build basic gong fu skills. In addition to these forms, Sun also teaches his students specific arm and leg training drills to develop power and speed.
One of the toughest, no-nonsense, "tell it like it is" martial artist that I have met in mainland China is Liang Ke Quan (see article on page 13). Because I knew Liang to be mainly interested in the combat aspects of martial arts and because he has traveled widely in Northern China meeting other martial artists, I asked him who were the absolute best Ba Gua and Xing Yi practitioners he had ever seen. For Xing Yi he said that it was Hu Yao Zhen a Xing Yi man from Shanxi who had died during the Cultural Revolution, for Ba Gua he said that the best was Sun Zhi Jun. I said, "Sun Zhi Jun is the best fighter?" He immediately replied, "Yes."
I was surprised at Liang's answer because I had expected the best Ba Gua man to be an older generation practitioner who had long been dead. Yet, he was telling me that the best Ba Gua practitioner he had seen was a man more than 10 years his junior. Also, I had met Sun a year before and seen him perform his Ba Gua. While I was very impressed with Sun's strength and flexibility, I had trouble seeing the combat practicality of the extremely difficult body articulations in Sun's forms.
The next time I saw Sun Zhi Jun I asked him about the use of his forms in fighting and he explained that the "eight mother palms," "the old eight palms," and the "linking palms" forms are not fighting forms but are primarily used to develop basic gong fu skills such as strength, flexibility, balance, and fluidity in motion. He said that many of the movements in these forms are not very practical fighting movements because they were not designed to be used in fighting training -these forms are developmental. He said that Ba Gua fighting training and Ba Gua fighting forms are different from the developmental forms such as the "eight mother palms," "the old eight palms," and the "linking palms," however, these forms provide an important foundation for the fighting training.
Sun explained further by saying that although the developmental forms are primarily used to give the student a foundation in terms of coordination, balance and flexibility, he does not allow the students to overlook the practical aspects of the movements in these forms and thus their martial training starts from day one. While there are moves in these forms that are only there to help open up the students joints, stretch the muscles, and challenge the student's balance and coordination, many of the moves are also very practical and he makes sure that the students have a knowledge of their usage when they are learning the movements.
After the students have developed basic gong fu skills by practicing the above mentioned forms, Sun will then teach them two-person drills and other fighting forms and exercises which are designed specifically for combat training. Sun said that the movements of these forms are all very practical and are performed much shorter and faster than the movements of the developmental forms.
In training students how to fight with Ba Gua, Sun said that it is important for them to not only understand the usage of various movements and how the power is applied, but they also need to understand how to create opportunities and adapt to changing situations. Every attack or defense has a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning involves gaining a reaction from the opponent to see how he moves and where he is open, the middle involves opening up the opponent's defense or bridging the gap, the end is the finishing strike, lock, or throw. Sun explained that in all applications the amount of power, direction of power, and timing has to be perfect. Additionally, the practitioner must be ready to change at any instant in accordance with the opponent's reactions. He said this kind of thing cannot be learned by performing form routines, it has to be developed during two-person drills and free sparring.
Several years ago the Peking University produced a video tape of Sun Zhi Jun's Ba Gua and Sun has recently had a book published in Singapore. We are currently making arrangements to sell Sun's book and tape in the United States and we will be bringing Pa Kua Chang Journal readers more technical information about Sun's Ba Gua in future issues.
After Cheng Ting Hua died, his top students went on to develop their own branches of Cheng's style of Ba Gua Zhang. Although most of Cheng's students retained the general characteristics and flavor of the Cheng style and most practiced some recognizable variation of the eight mother palms, the old eight
Beijing Ba Gua Zhang instructor Wang Rong Tang was a student of Cheng Ting Hua's nephew Yang Ming Shan palms, and the linking palms, many of his students also added their own flavor to Cheng's Ba Gua. Below I will discuss several of the main branches of the Cheng style.
The first branch, from which comes the majority of the Ba Gua taught in the United States today, I will call the "Xing Yi" branch. As we discussed in the last issue of the journal, Cheng Ting Hua taught Ba Gua Zhang to many of his contemporaries who were already very skilled Xing Yi practitioners. Additionally, the majority of these practitioners had a strong background in one or more Shaolin-based arts before they started Xing Yi. Therefore, when these practitioners came to Cheng to learn Ba Gua, they were already extremely good martial artists and had developed their own fighting characteristics. These characteristics naturally carried over into their Ba Gua and thus each taught a different version of Cheng style Ba Gua Zhang. We could probably consider each of these practitioners as having their own sub-branch of the "Xing Yi" branch. These practitioners would be individuals such as Li Cun Yi, Zhang Zhao Dong, Geng Ji Shan -#•), Sun Lu Tang, and Liu De Kuan Others whose training in Shaolin and Xing Yi possibly influenced their style of Cheng's Ba Gua were Li Wen Biao ( ^XM), Zhou Yu Xiang and Gao Yi Sheng
The next branch of Cheng's Ba Gua, which is still taught today in Beijing, and has begun to spread to the United States, is the style taught by Cheng's students Liu Bin (#1^,), Ji Feng Xiang Wang Dan Lin
Guo Feng De (fPilft), Li Hao Ting and Liu Zhen Zong (^1 This system, which I
will refer to as "Nine Palace Ba Gua" because this is the name of their core form, is carried on today in Beijing by Liu Xing Han - see Pa Kua Chang
Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 1 and Pa Kua Chang Journal,
Vol. 3, No. 2). Ji Feng Xiang was primarily responsible for this style's diversion from the other branches of Cheng's Ba Gua. Ji was an astrologer and Yi Jing ( scholar. He used his knowledge of astrology and the Yi Jing in his formation of this branch of Cheng's Ba Gua. In this system all of their forms have very specific relationships to the eight trigrams and the eight directions.
During practice, if no one is in front of you, you imagine you are fighting someone. In the actual fight, when there is an enemy in front of you, you act as if no one is there.
Another branch of Cheng style Ba Gua descends from Cheng Ting Hua's nephew Yang Ming Shan. This branch would also include the Ba Gua which was taught by Cheng Ting Hua's son, Cheng You Long. After Cheng Ting Hua died, Yang Ming Shan and Cheng You Long moved to the same village in Beijing's eastern district. Cheng continued to practice and study Ba Gua with Yang Ming Shan and thus their styles are similar.
Yang Ming Shan did not like to teach and did not have many students. Two of his most well known students were Ma De Shan ^ i) and Wang Rong Tang. Yang Ming Shan died around 1941. Ma De Shan, who studied with both Cheng You Long and Yang Ming Shan, died around 1960 at the age of 70. Wang Rong Tang is still alive at 83 years of age and living in Beijing.
Yang Ming Shan and all of his descendants are known to be great fighters. In an interview in Beijing conducted in April 1993, Wang Rong Tang said that his teacher strongly emphasized the single palm change. He said that "if the student does not fully understand the single palm change, he will not make much progress. If the student does develop skill in the single palm change, then he can beat almost anyone using that one palm."
Wang also emphasized the six harmonies, the use of the mind in practice, and the use and positioning of the palms and elbows in fighting. He said that during practice, if no one is in front of you, you imagine you are fighting someone. In the actual fight, when there is an enemy in front of you, you act as if no one is there.
The last major branch of Cheng style Ba Gua is that which was taught in the Cheng village. This branch would include the Ba Gua taught by Cheng Dian Hua, Cheng You Xin, Cheng You Sheng, Cheng You Gong, Liu Zi Yang or any of the others who taught or learned Ba Gua in the village. Because the village is very isolated it is probably safe to say that the Ba Gua that came from the village is the closest to what Cheng Ting Hua actually taught.
A Group of Cheng Style Ba Gua Zhang practitioners from the "Nine Palace" branch pose for a group photo on Sept. 2nd, 1942. Liu Xing Han is in the second row, third from the right. His father,
Liu Xin Zong, is seated, third from the right.
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